used without permission, for "fair use" only

An "Escape" to the Streets of Duvno

Politicized Court Trials

by Nedzad Vrebac (AIM)

Nezavisne Novine, Banja Luka, Srpska, B-H, December 8 1999

In the last few days two pieces of front page news about court trials that have ended without final verdicts (appeals are pending) have stirred emotions in the region of the Livno Canton (the Herceg-Bosna County). The result of one is the killer "on the run" freely walking along the streets of Duvno [Tomislav Grad] and of the other the acquittal of a man accused of rape. But, "justice was served" by his sentencing to two and a half years of prison for forgery of his identification card. The first accused killed nine Bosniaks in the village of Mokronoge, the Tomislav Grad Municipality, in the summer of 1993. He was tried before the Zagreb District Court. The second defendant, a Serb returnee to Drvar, who had allegedly tried to rape a Croatian refugee this summer, was tried before the Livno Municipal Court.

Both these trials raised doubts about the impartiality of their verdicts, i.e. their political background. Namely, it is unclear why should from Tomislav Grad, a Bosnia-Hercegovina national, who has committed the incriminating act during the Croatian-Bosniak conflict on the territory of Bosnia-Hercegovina, should be tried in another country (the Republic of Croatia), while in the case of the Serbian returnee to Drvar it was obviously a show trial.

The explanation of the verdict of the Zagreb District Court, with Ranko Marijan as a presiding judge, stated that Ivan Bakovic, also known as Ikac, was found guilty because on August 10, 1993 in the village of Mokronoge, he appeared together with at least one unidentified person, at the doorstep of Beslaga family house armed with an automatic and a machine-gun and wearing fatigues. After the Beslagas opened the door, Bakovic entered the house and reloading his gun aimed it at Husein, Emir, Subha, Emira and Dika Beslaga, Ibrahim Miharem and Mustafa Tiro, as well as Simha Djulman, ordering them to get out of the house.

Together with his accessory, holding the victims at gun-point, he took them to a nearby forest, some 500 meters away and ordered them to lie on the ground, face down. Then two of them fired at close range, at least 33 shots from the automatic gun and 51 shots from the machine-gun. All nine were killed on the spot.

During the presentation of evidence before the Court, the most relevant was the shocking testimony of minor Amela Beslagic, who recognized the murderer on the night he came to their house. Incidentally, Bakovic was her parents' best man. When Bakovic ordered them to lie down, her mother implored him: "Don't do that brother Ivan. Your dad was a good man", and he replied: "He might have been good, but I am an Ustasha", and took them out of the house - the witness told the Court.

Explaining the verdict, judge Ranko Marijan said that in cold blood, without any provocation and calculatedly the murderer had killed nine innocent and peaceful civilians, taking them by force from the safety of their home. "This multiple murder confirms the fact that in war crimes can be committed by members of all warring sides, but also that a crime is always a crime and has no nationality, religion or ideology. Numerous deadly shots fired at nine innocent civilians from the weapons of HVO [Bosnian Croat militia] members were not aimed only at them, but at the entire democratic public. These shots were fired not only into the bodies of innocent victims, but also into the dignity of Croatian soldiers and every decent man", judge Marijan emphasized.

The killer from Tomislav Grad was sentenced to 15 years in prison, but "in absentia". The conviction of a murderer who is at large as of 1994 or, as the verdict states "on the run", is a poor consolation for the family, relatives and friends of the perfidiously murdered Bosniaks, as well as for the democratic and righteous public. The passing of a judgment five years after the closing of the investigation, as well as the fact that the murderer is out of reach although he was seen freely walking along the Duvno [Tomislav Grad] streets, raise doubts and suspicions.

There are also doubts because of the fact that a war crime, which was qualified as a multiple murder, was tried before the court of another state and not by judicial authorities of the Federation, i.e. of the Livno Canton, where the murder was committed. Because of all the lack of any legal logic and dilemmas it seems quite appropriate to ask whether this was a case of the escaped war criminal or, perhaps, a proof that there is no rule of law and judicial order in the state because the ruling parties are preventing the system from functioning in accordance with the Constitution, legal customs and ethical standards, as well international human rights conventions.

Court proceedings recently conducted before the Livno Municipal Court were also subject to strong political pressures so that there are justified doubts about their regularity. The charges brought by the Municipal Public Prosecutor's Office in Livno, represented by prosecutor Jakov Dujic, "against Radovan Popovic, also known as Raso, a Serb returnee to the village of Mokronoge, the Drvar Municipality, for falsifying personal documents and an attempted rape of a refugee of Croatian nationality, residing in Drvar," clearly show that this was a rigged trial whose aim was to intimidate Serbian returnees and distract attention from crimes committed by Croats who have not yet been brought to justice.

After the hearing which lasted four days, with interruptions, and testimonies of some twenty witnesses for the injured party and only one for the defendant, and with all other presented documentary evidence, the panel of judges sentenced Popovic to two and a half years in prison for falsifying personal documents, which the accused had readily admitted, saying that he bought them in Novi Sad in order to avoid being mobilized by the Republic of Srpska Army.

The Court acquitted the accused of much more serious charges for attempted rape because, according to the explanation, the Court did not get solid evidence that the accused had committed the crime he was accused of. Key evidence in this trial was the testimony of the injured party who, when confronted with the accused Popovic half an hour after his arrest in the Drvar Police Headquarters on July 2, this year, "just took a cursory glance of the accused stating that she thought he could be the person who attacked her".

Statements of key witnesses were also contradictory, while the finding of the expert analysis of the injured party's clothes stated that there was no biological or other proof that there had been a contact between the accused and the victim. It is symptomatic that Popovic was sentenced to 2.5 years in prison for "falsifying personal documents", although the penalty envisaged by the law for this crime is three to six months in prison.

Overall, the impression was that this was a rigged trial with a political background.

On the other hand, the investigation of the April 1998 murder of a Serbian married couple, returnees to Drvar, is just spinning its wheels, as well as in the case of Croatian refugees who set on fire 150 Serbian houses and shops in Drvar.

Translated in December 1999